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J Emerg Med. 2016 Feb;50(2):e53-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2015.09.005. Epub 2015 Oct 9.

Pediatric Urinary Retention in the Emergency Department: A Concerning Symptom with Etiology Outside the Bladder.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, William Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Michigan; Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, Rochester, Michigan.



Urinary retention in an otherwise healthy adolescent is a concerning symptom, in which etiology can range from an extracystic mass to central nervous system involvement (CNS). One possibility is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), a rare inflammatory autoimmune disease that affects the CNS via demyelination. The disease usually is preceded by an acute viral infection, and commonly presents with multifocal neurological deficits. The diagnosis for ADEM is made based on clinical presentation, correlating with findings characterized on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the CNS.


Our case involves a 16-year-old boy who presented to the Emergency Department (ED) with urinary retention. The patient was an otherwise healthy adolescent who was experiencing intermittent fevers for 1 week, and was found to be monospot positive when seen by his pediatrician. When presenting to the ED, the patient's primary complaint was urinary retention, which he experienced acutely in the middle of the night. Due to the suspicious nature of the patient's symptoms and history of present illness, the patient received a thorough workup including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the patient's brain and spinal cord, which demonstrated findings consistent with ADEM. WHY SHOULD AN EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN BE AWARE OF THIS?: There is very little literature describing a case of ADEM in the ED where the primary manifesting symptom was urinary retention. In addition, it is important that clinicians address acute urinary retention in an otherwise healthy adolescent as a red flag, with the need to rule out concerning etiology.


Epstein-Barr virus; acute disseminated encephalomyelitis; emergency department; fever; urinary retention

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